The Surplus Population

by Jimmy Akin

in Current Affairs

One less "useless eater" to worry about.

"bio-ethicists" and ivory-tower academics who blithely discuss an
ethics of utilitarianism and openly promote ideas like euthanasia and
infanticide can take partial credit for this man's murder. By abusing
their positions of trust, they help create a culture of death. The same
way the Bush administration is blamed for sending signals and pulling
strings to create a culture of tolerance (if not enthusiasm) for

Peter Singer, this man's blood is on your hands.

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David B. December 31, 2008 at 9:37 am

I wonder whether these Medics will value their lives in their old age, especially if they use a couple crutches. You think they won’t call for help if they ever need it?

bill912 December 31, 2008 at 9:42 am

If I think that “bio-ethicists” who share Singer’s views are not worth keeping alive, should I be allowed to kill them? I’d love to pose that question to them.

The Masked Chicken December 31, 2008 at 10:32 am

The dead man need prayer for the repose of his soul. The two medics need prayer for the conversion of their souls. There is a line from Sirach that everyone should heed:
Sir 7:36 36] In all you do, remember the end of your life,
and then you will never sin. [RSV]
The Chicken

Plausibly a Ruse December 31, 2008 at 12:03 pm

The OP is misleading as regards Peter Singer and the wikipedia link does not help that much when dealing with biased readers who may fill in lacunas with their own preconceived (from the OP) ideas.
This snippet is much better:
“Bioethicist Peter Singer, in his Practical Ethics, also describes ‘involuntary euthanasia,’ which does not involve the consent of an otherwise competent patient. Singer also explores ‘non-voluntary euthanasia’ at length, which involves the ‘merciful’ killing of those unable to speak for themselves, such as severely disabled infants or those who have never had or have lost the ability to comprehend their circumstances, but who have never before expressed a desire for circumstantial euthanasia.”
As one can see, Peter Singer would not have advocated for society’s sanction or effecting of an involuntary euthanasia wrt to this disabled man.
The statement that Peter Singer is morally responsible here is misleading (aside from being untruthful) as regards the fact above that Singer would not have supported involuntary euthansia here and it is also unjustified since AFAIK the two EMTs in the article had no knowledge or acquaintance with any speech of Peter Singer.
It is sad that one has to do this, but my comments here are not meant to indicate agreement with Peter Singer nor to express any value-laden opinion as regards him or his ideas.
BTW, Leibniz (admired by the chicken IIRC) was a utilitarian and from what I understand in terms of “high theory” wrt to God himself, he considered God to be a utilitarian simplicter (i.e. not a “rule utilitarain”) but considered that utilitarian moral truth known to God to be opaque to us, resulting in the theoretical foundation for our following some secondary form of utilitarianism similar to or associated with other utilitarian variants.
I myself reject not only utilitarianism but consequentialism. However it would not be fair to tarnish utilitarianism or the variant of utilitarianism (there are many) that Peter Singer may favor with Peter Singer’s peculiar views (as conceived to be a tarnishing by those who would do so).

Plausibly a Ruse December 31, 2008 at 12:05 pm
Plausibly a Ruse December 31, 2008 at 12:17 pm

Just to clarify, I was using “involuntary” to mean simply all those which are members of complement of the set of cases of voluntary euthansia, complement relative to the superset of cases of euthanasia. Peter Singer has his own usage which distinguishes between “involuntary” and “non-voluntary”

Tim Jones December 31, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Ruse, I did not state or imply that the two EMTs had ever heard of Singer, or that the specific brand of ethical utilitarianism he favors would have included support for this particular death.
Singer and others contribute to and create a generalized culture of disregard for human life as such… a “culture of death”.
The two EMTs were just taking these positions to their logical conclusion, even if Singer (and other who agree with him) might find that personally uncomfortable.

Plausibly a Ruse December 31, 2008 at 12:36 pm

P.S. I would agree with Tim on torture being intrinsically evil at least if torture is defined as the exertion of any displeasure on an individual with the aim of persuading that individual to be or act in a certain way, which persuasion consisting not of the ordering of that individual’s intellect to the apprehension of truth but the inducement through movement of passion (for ex. fear) for the individual to elect such change. This definition would be broadly applicable to rule out certain forms of child abuse and certain paradigms of crime and punishment. However from the perspective of the Bush administration, they define torture differently (perhaps they go with Jimmy Akin’s definition morally speaking and legally speaking go with John Yoo’s definition), and in any event to the extent that people try to emulate the moral vision of the Bush administration, from the Bush administration’s perspective that would be a good thing as they don’t view their moral vision as being defective as such. Nor would the consequences of adopting such a moral vision on the part of the administration be considered dispositive or even primary considerations. To view consequences of acts (for ex. adultery or fornication being (always) wrong due to the consequences it has on human persons and relations) as the sole primary moral considerations is to adhere to the truth of some member or other of a certain superset of moral theories to which utilitarianism belongs, namely, consequentialism. Utilitarinaism (or certain variants of it) may for all I know be a natural refining of consequentialism with consequentialism being the poison that begins it all; in any event, it (consequentialism) is IMO a theory of moral poison, a poison more seductively evil than any particular mistake of moral judgment (conscience) that one might make even if it involve murder or sins worse than murder.

Plausibly a Ruse December 31, 2008 at 12:39 pm

Tim, are you then saying that there perhaps was no causal connection between anything Peter Singer is/was/does/did and what the two EMTs did? How can you know that Peter Singer was causally responsibly in some manner for a climate that in turn was in some manner causally responsible for what the two EMTs did (not to say that Peter Singer or the climate was determinatively responsible, but how can you know that Peter Singer contributed anything causally at all?)

Tim Jones December 31, 2008 at 1:04 pm

“Tim, are you then saying that there perhaps was no causal connection between anything Peter Singer is/was/does/did and what the two EMTs did?”
No, I am specifically not saying that, as I believe there is a causal connection (however materially intractable).

Tim Jones December 31, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Also, I would define torture as “The infliction of suffering for the purpose of breaking the will.”

Leo December 31, 2008 at 1:58 pm

The crime that these ambulance men are ALLEGED to have committed goes against the instructions that paramedics in the UK are given, which can be paraphrased as: always try to resuscitate unless it is pretty obvious the patient is dead, but if in doubt – resuscitate. source BBC interview
According to the Times report they were “detained on suspicion of wilfully neglecting to perform a duty in public office, contrary to Common Law.”
In attempting to make this story intelligible to its readers, Foxnews says the patient “dialed 911″. If this unfortunate man (or Foxnews readers) did that in the UK they would have had no chance because the UK emergency number is 999 or 112.
112 is now the common emergency number for most of Europe.

Plausibly a Ruse December 31, 2008 at 2:08 pm

So you believe there is a causal connection but also believe it is impossible (or impractical) to provide evidence for it? I’m not asking you to prove it in a court of law … I just wonder what basis there is for your belief at all. Peter Singer is not exactly a household name.
“Breaking the will” is a little vague, but I would expand it to mean any subversion of authentic humanity in terms of disrupting a person’s right ordering of his being and actions through his intellect (which is a traditional view of how human acts are to be ordered: the intellect apprehending good and the will by virtue of that apprehension of good, choosing that good, ideally in harmony with ones passions). In torture, a good act (for ex. confession of a crime) is aimed for not by means of that right ordering of authentic humanity — i.e. not by means of inducing intellectual apprehension of the good and the will choosing said apprehended by good — but rather by inducing commotion in the man’s passions so that he might act without respect or not by virtue of any good apprehended by his intellect and in freedom so assented to by his will. So torture perverts the human nature of the victim of the torture. In any event if your definition is not identical with my own, it is but a stricter or narrower incarnation of it.

The Masked Chicken December 31, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Is there a doctor in the house? My question is: are quality of life issues beginning to dominate ethical training in medical schools? Obviously, the two paramedics are making just such a quality of life decision, but according to their own rules, if the report is accurate.
A question, which might get at Tim’s intuition linking Peter Singer to the matter is: by what criteria did they establish their rules? I doubt they read Singer, but I suspect that they do watch tv, view films, and read the British equivalent of the Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. It seems to me that tv and films (magazines, less so) are, in many cases (the recent Clint Eastwood movie comes to mind,) two of the greatest subconscious presenters of the quality of life arguments there are. Do tv and film producers read Peter Singer? That is a question I cannot answer, but if not, some may have discovered his arguments, independently.
The Chicken
The Chicken

Tim Jones December 31, 2008 at 3:22 pm

I do believe that nearly any definition of mine, placed along side any definition of yours, would likely be considered “stricter and narrower”.
For instance, my definition could not be used to define “Go and apologize to your sister right now, or you’re grounded” as torture.

Tim Jones December 31, 2008 at 3:26 pm

“So you believe there is a causal connection but also believe it is impossible (or impractical) to provide evidence for it?”
Precisely so. The evidence is there, but is only to be apprehended through the judicious application of common sense, which Chicken has apparently grasped.

Tim Jones December 31, 2008 at 3:46 pm

If it will make you feel better, Ruse, I’ll confess again to my own participation in such a
Because I had not thoroughly considered the Church’s teaching on Just War theory, I at first supported the Iraq war and justified the concept of preemptive war in general. I wrote some blog posts justifying the war and the actions of the Bush administration. I scoffed at allegations of a general pro-torture culture (in the military) being encouraged by the administration. I derided war critics (not that some don’t deserve it).
By contributing to an atmosphere of naive and uncritical trust in the government, I became complicit (to some extent) in the acts of that government, which is why I later apologized in print to all the innocent civilians and all the servicemen and women and their families who had borne the brunt of the effects of our country’s policies.
Have George Bush or Dick Cheney ever heard of me? Ever read my blog? Did I ever espouse the use of torture? No. But, that does not mean there is no causal relationship between my action (or inaction) and the behavior of my government.
Our lives and our words *do* impact people who will never know we were ever born.

Tim Jones December 31, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Oops! I left out part of the above post… but, you get the gist.

Plausibly a Ruse December 31, 2008 at 3:54 pm

Tim, it didn’t appear to me that the chicken was affirming what you affirmed. In fact he floats the possibility that the cause is “independent” of Singer. In any event, I frankly don’t find the fact that chicken affirms something to be of some special epistemological value. I also don’t find anything in his post that I would disagree with as it pertains to this matter. The most that chicken can be taken to affirm would be that ideas similar in some respects to Singer’s ideas may be causally responsible. To put blame on ideas along the lines of Singer is different from what you did which was accuse him personally of being morally responsible for murder.

Tim Jones December 31, 2008 at 4:07 pm

Ideas can’t bear responsibility for anything.

Plausibly a Ruse December 31, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Tim, my definition of torture (and just so people know Akin’s definition of torture differs from both mine and yours), does not entail such a thing. It would depend on the intent there. If the prospect of the displeasure of grounding was to illuminate (or if you prefer highlight or make more manifest) the wrong nature of the contrary act then that would not be torture (which is not to say it would not be wrong; there are of course many things that are not torture but which are nevertheless wrong; whether it would be wrong or not would depend on details absent in your description; anything prudent is good and anything imprudent is evil and likewise for temperate versus intemperate). Likewise if the prospect of the displeasure of grounding was to be at the service of the child to facilitate penitential devotion, then that would not be torture either. but if the prospect was to bend the child’s will (or as you put it “break the will”) in the manner I mentioned such that the source of the child’s action is not in a good apprehended through the intellect and chosen by the will but by a perversion of the child’s authentic humanity, then that would be intrinsically evil.
This is complicated however by the fact that it is a child we are dealing with who may not be capable of apprehending certain goods through the intellect. To that extent his nature would in the operative sense be more akin to that of a non-rational animal even if the nature itself ontologically is that of a rational animal. And this extension of operative non-rationality may vary depending on the individual and the individual’s age and the subject matter. As regards someone who is say 20 years old and not having reached the age of majority (age of majority varies from 18 to 21 in the several states) however and subject to parental power in certain respects, the analysis would not be so complicated.
A similar analysis as I alluded to would pertain to paradigms of crime and punishment.

TC December 31, 2008 at 4:08 pm

The Chicken says, “Obviously, the two paramedics are making just such a quality of life decision, but according to their own rules, if the report is accurate.”
But DID they?
The report says they were caught making disparaging remarks. It doesn’t say they stopped treating him or whatever they were supposed to be doing.
Medical people can be awfully callous — it doesn’t automatically make them monsters.
Lastly — anybody in the house ever say anything they wouldn’t want cught on tape and reported on FOX?

Plausibly a Ruse December 31, 2008 at 4:33 pm

Tim, I would agree that ideas cannot be moral agents or for that moral subjects, but in terms of whether they are causally inert I would say that the state of affairs of certain ideas obtaining in certain men are not causally inert states of affairs. In terms of the ideas themselves considered on some abstract level, as abstract objects they would conventionally be considered causally inert, but I myself am skeptical of such claims.
In terms of causation, one analysis of causation which one can accept as a definition of causation intensionally speaking or as simply a definition that is coextensive with causation or as simply something entailed by the fact of causation is as follows:
If A causes B, then if A had not been the case then B would not have been the case.
If we accept the line of thought behind this as a definition or a coextension, then we would write:
A causes B, if and only if, if A had not been the case then B would not have been the case.
One analysis of counterfactuals (or subjunctives) is as follows:
“If A were the case, B would be the case” is true if and only if “In the nearest possible world in which A obtains, B also obtains” where “nearest” does not exclude that world which nearness is relative to (in which case it might not be so apt to call it “counterfactual”)
So applied to causation per above (note that the A’s and B’s don’t carry over), some act of Singer’s or some set of properties pertaining to Singer personally would have caused the act alleged in the OP only if had Singer not acted or been so, the murder alleged in the OP would not have obtained which according to one analysis would mean apprehending whether in the nearest possible world in which Singer had not acted or been so, the murder alleged in the OP would not obtained.
IMO, it suffices to criticize the defects of Singer’s ideas in themselves. If those ideas are defective, those defects alone should warrant criticism and rejection. Speculating on what Singer’s espousal of said ideas may or may not have caused introduces unneeded distraction and also makes us not apprehend properly why Singer’s ideas are wrong. They are wrong not because they produce harmful effects. They are wrong simply because they are not true. To those who divorce beauty from truth, this may sound too coldly analytical; but in traditional Catholic philosophy, to the extent that something is true, it is also beautiful and vice versa; traditionally truth and beauty are held to be notionally or mentally distinct but not really distinct. Even in the intermediate view of “formal” distinction, it can be truly said that to the extent that an idea is not true it is not beautiful and that is why certain aspects of certain views of Singers must be rejected; to do otherwise is to in effect not love truth and beauty and goodness for what it is but for what true, beautiful, or good effects it causes … for loving truth for truth’s own sake ought to entail being desirous of the presence of truth for that presence’s own sake (which is what is missing or in some way absent in a defective idea). This instrumentalization of good which I have just now criticized is precisely the error of utilitarianism in particular; consequentialism actually need not involve that.
P.S. Hopefully I got my “not”‘s and “only”‘s and “if”‘s in the right places above. I haven’t checked it …

Plausibly a Ruse December 31, 2008 at 4:55 pm

BTW, afaik, Singer’s basis for his beliefs as they might remotely pertain to the OP are not grounded in a significant way in the economic sustainability of the present population. Thus in addition to the other criticisms I have already shared, the title of the OP itself, might be misleading as regards Singer. I am not aware of anyone actually who justifies euthansia in a way significantly grounded in economic sustainability (significant as in that their view would condemn euthanasia were that issue not present). The only thing even remotely resembling such caricature would be the view of some extreme environmentalists who believe that the human race should annihilate itself by means of voluntary non-propagation since they view the human species as being more destructive than beneficient wrt to the earth; they include people who themselves have chosen such lifestyles … for the sake of the earth as opposed to for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
The only recollection I even have of “surplus” being used with reference to any kind of population related to humanity is in debates over embryonic research and debates over what to do with surplus embryos (to let them die as Cardinal Hume suggested, to implant them in women as some had and still are suggesting despite the new yellow/red light on that from the CDF, or to just keep them frozen indefinitely, something no one seems to express support for).
Thomas is supposed to give his opponent’s arguments the strongest take, even stronger than his opponents might have been able to conceive themselves, and then to give his own opinion. I wish that kind of model or spirit would gain in popularity.

Tim Jones December 31, 2008 at 5:42 pm

The title of my post is a literary (or poetic, if you like) reference.
My emphasis on Singer’s own responsibility was no accident. Ideas don’t create themselves.
Of course we don’t judge the truth or falsehood, good or evil of any action based mainly on its effects. Truth and Falsehood exist quite apart from any concrete manifestations they might have. I do not subscribe – at all – to consequentialist arguments in support of any of my opinions, as you seem to suppose.

Ruse December 31, 2008 at 6:14 pm

OK, I guess your preferred style and mine are just different. I’ll try to remember that and won’t be so nitpicky next time. Happy new year. BTW, I’m not sure what occasioned it but I appreciate the style of posts you have made recently addressed to me. FWIW, thanks.

bill912 December 31, 2008 at 7:45 pm

This trollish hobby-horsing is getting old. I think the unsheathing of Glamdring would be in order.

The Masked Chicken January 1, 2009 at 6:44 am

Dear TC,
The report says:
A police source, who asked not to be named, said that the medics were then heard discussing Baker and saying “words to the effect that he was not worth saving.” [my emphasis]
The source said that the two men were allegedly first heard commenting on the untidy state of the house and then saying that it was not worth bothering to resuscitate Baker.
They are said to have discussed what to tell ambulance control and decided to say that Baker was already dead when they got there.

This all seems like quality of life to me. The report also says that they were discussing what to tell ambulance control about his death, which implies that they let the man die.
The Chicken

Ruse January 1, 2009 at 10:39 am

FWIW, even as alleged, it’s not clear that their moral indifference is from a judgment as to the value of life per quality of life or a more insidious judgment as regards the person’s moral character. More importantly, it is best not to rely on a “police source” as to what the word were in “effect” saying; it is crucial in the formation of any judgment to come to knowledge of the actual words so that they aren’t filtered through other (especially interested) parties.

Mary January 1, 2009 at 11:13 am

FWIW, even as alleged, it’s not clear that their moral indifference is from a judgment as to the value of life per quality of life or a more insidious judgment as regards the person’s moral character.
Since what it is worth is exactly nothing, why even bring it up?

Ruse January 1, 2009 at 11:49 am

Hi MaryC, are you saying you disagree with me? If so, perhaps you could strive to express such disagreement in a kinder and less strident fashion.

Aaron J Magnan January 2, 2009 at 9:31 am

And these are common things people do, I suppose?

Hans January 2, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Is there a doctor in the house? My question is: are quality of life issues beginning to dominate ethical training in medical schools? Obviously, the two paramedics are making just such a quality of life decision, but according to their own rules, if the report is accurate.” (TMC)
This last fall, TMC, there was a symposium here on the meaning of “Quality of Life” featuring Cardinal George, Peter Kreeft, and others. A pdf with bios of the speakers is available at the link; I spoke to Dr. Angelo at the reception beforehand [I couldn't go to the symposium itself — something about having to teach while it was going on] and she is, in the very best possible meaning of the word, a hoot). I mention it (even though you can’t make it, being over a month late) because the papers that went with the talks are going to be published (in some format) and the talks were recorded, and there is a plan to post them as a podcast (or more than one). So it might be of interest.
Anyway, my experience, having had contact with some students at the UIC COM, is that things are very bad, but not yet dire. It remains possible for a Catholic medical student to graduate with his ethics intact, but there are those who are doing their best to make it very hard. Fortunately, there has been some pushback from some students and from some faculty. (In general, those of us who work for the university, as state employees, must take the state’s annual “ethics training”. In general, I’ve always thought that the “training” made me less ethical afterwards than before.)

Hans January 2, 2009 at 10:39 pm

This trollish hobby-horsing is getting old. I think the unsheathing of Glamdring would be in order.” (bill912)
It seems to me, Bill, that an analogy to Wormtongue might be more apt than to trolls. Though, having spent several (blessed) days away from the internet, perhaps I missed something that is no longer there?

Ghosty January 4, 2009 at 12:26 am

As a former EMT this article made my blood boil. This kind of thing is so antithetical to the entire profession that it boggles my mind that these men even chose to work in the field. I pray for their souls, and especially for the man they let die, but a part of me still has the urge to confront them in a particularily “direct” manner.
Maybe everyone should say a quick prayer for me, too.
God bless.

Kate January 16, 2009 at 4:11 am

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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